Continental Airlines today asked for permission to serve Heathrow Airport in London, with hopes of starting service from Houston in 2008, Houston Chronicle reports.
The move by Houston-based Continental was triggered by European Union approval of a so-called "open skies" agreement between the United States and EU which loosens the rules covering trans-Atlantic airline service. This deal is supposed to open up coveted spots at the airport.
"Our customers have always wanted more options for accessing London, and the open skies agreement will allow us to give our customers the convenience of choosing between Heathrow and Gatwick for their London travel plans," Larry Kellner, chairman and CEO of Continental Airlines, said in a statement.
Continental said that it immediately petitioned the Department of Transportation to fly to Heathrow and other European cities after the pact was approved earlier today by the European Commission.
The open skies deal essentially gives U.S. carriers more access to Europe and vice versa for European carriers coming to the United States.
As it expands into Heathrow, the airline said it will retain service to Gatwick, which currently is offered from its hubs in Houston, Newark and Cleveland. By the end of 2007, Continental will operate to 30 destinations across the Atlantic from its U.S. hubs.
The airline said it plans to inaugurate service from its Houston hub to Heathrow before summer of 2008. That is subject to government approval, along with the airline obtaining necessary slots and facilities at Heathrow.
"We will discuss the issue of slots with various parties and are optimistic about getting some," spokeswoman Mary Clark said.
The only U.S. carriers that now serve Heathrow, which is London's busiest airport, are American Airlines and United Airlines.
The new open skies rules take effect March 30, 2008.